Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #83: Monster Christmas by Lewis Trondheim

Lewis Trondheim is a cartoonist with a very identifiable style -- particularly when he draws himself as a bird-headed man and the people around him as similarly anthropomorphic characters -- but he works in many idioms and for very different audiences.

There are his wordless books of sight gags, Mister O and Mister I, in a simplified version of his mature style for maximum humor efficiency. There's that main mature style itself, as seen in his autobiographical comics (like Little Nothings) and in the albums he drew of his Dungeon series. And there's the version of that style that he uses for his books for younger readers -- like A.L.I.E.E.N.

Or, like this book: Monster Christmas. It seems to be the sequel to something -- maybe another album, maybe a short story somewhere, maybe just the original idea that Trondheim didn't turn into a published work yet -- since this French family already has their pet monster, which has to be explained before the story proper can begin.

This ordinary family -- Dad, Mom, son Petey, daughter Jean -- look very similar to the way Trondheim draws himself and his family in his autobiographical works, but this is a simpler, sillier story, starting with that monster, which the kids drew and brought to life. In this album, the family is heading off to the mountains for a skiing holiday at Christmas -- and trying to leave the monster, Kriss, behind. (Of course, that never works.)

The whole story is entirely narrated, told in borderless comics panels with narrative captions -- somewhat in the Prince Valiant style, but from the point of view of the two children -- telling the whole story. There's no direct dialogue, which makes the whole thing distanced, as if the kids are telling it as a bedtime story or to their classmates after the holidays are over. The kid-like "and then this happened" plot adds to that feeling, though Trondheim's drawings give the whole book a strong dose of life to counteract it.

But this is Trondheim creating for kids, make no mistake. It's a silly story about a typical family, their funny and lovable pet monster, Santa Claus, and assorted dangers of the mountains. It's probably best read to small children, or handed to children slightly older and able to read it through themselves.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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